Fifty years ago last month, in March 1962, Dryden Chemicals
began dumping an estimated 10 metric tonnes of mercury into the
Wabigoon River, contaminating the fish which formed the
subsistence and economy of three Indigenous communities
Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows), Wabaseemoong (White Dog),
and some members of Wabauskang who lived at Quibell. Half a century
later residents of Grassy Narrows are still grappling with the long
term health, social, and economic impacts. Mercury levels in Grassy
Narrows fish have yet to return to safe levels. Stopping this
pollution, and compensating those affected, was one of the great
environmental causes of the 1970s and early 80s.
Wikipedia continues: "Dryden Chemical Company discharged
their effluent directly into the Wabigoon-English River system."
What did they think they were doing? Mercury was already known
to be poisonous, and Minimata Disease had already been discovered in
"In 1970, extensive mercury contamination was discovered in
this river system, leading to closure of the commercial fishery and
some tourism related businesses. On March 26, 1970, the Ontario
provincial government ordered Dryden Chemical Company to cease
dumping mercury into the river system, although the order did not
place any restrictions on airborne emissions of mercury by the
company. It was estimated that over 9,000 kg of
mercury had been dumped by the company into the Wabigoon-English
river system between 1962 and 1970. The airborne emissions of mercury
continued unabated until the company stopped using mercury cells in
its chloralkali process in October 1975; the company closed down in
Nitam-Anishinaabeg or the "Grassy Narrows First
Nation" and their downstream neighbours, the Wabaseemoong
Independent Nations (then known as the "Whitedog Community of
the Islington Band of Saulteaux") sought compensation for loss
of jobs and way of life. ...6]
"In 1985, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed
committing government and two companies (Reed Limited, and Great
Lakes Forest Products Ltd.) to a one-time compensation payment. In
1986, the Government of Canada's Grassy Narrows and
Islington Indian Bands Mercury Pollution Claims Settlement Act
and the Government of Ontario'sEnglish and Wabigoon River
Systems Mercury Contamination Settlement Agreement Act,
facilitated the creation of the Mercury Disability Fund (MDF) and
the Mercury Disability Board, based in Kenora, Ontario. The federal
and provincial governments, as well as the two companies involved,
paid a total of $16.67 million for the MOA compensation.
Canada's contribution was $2.75 million. Part of the First
Nations' MOA settlement ($2 million) was placed in a trust fund
(which the Province of Ontario is responsible for replenishing when
the balance drops below $100,000). The Board administers the trust
as well as a benefits mechanism.
Nevertheless, the community members have seen little of this
The Mercury Disability Board website says: "In
November 1985, Wabaseemoong Independent Nations (formerly
Islington, formerly Whitedog) and Grassy Narrows First Nation
negotiated an out of court settlement with the federal government,
the province of Ontario, and two paper companies (Reed Incorporated
and Great Lakes Forest Products Limited) for all claims due to
mercury contamination in the English and Wabigoon river systems. In
1986, both the federal government and the province of Ontario
enacted legislation to carry out the terms of the settlement.
"The settlement provided for the establishment of a Mercury
Disability Fund and a Mercury Disability Board.
"Members of Wabaseemoong Independent Nations and Grassy
Narrows First Nation whose health may have been affected by mercury
poisioning in the English and Wabigoon river systems may be
entitled to an award from the Mercury Disability Fund.
"The Mercury Disability Board supervises the administration
of the Fund and oversees a claims and appeals process that is
available to all Wabaseemoong and Grassy Narrows band members or
those who are registered Indians who were customarily resident on
one of the two reserves before the first day of October
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